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A Trusted Friend in a Complicated World

8 Spanish Phrases Everyone Should Know How to Use

Visiting a Spanish-speaking country anytime soon? Or just want to bone up on your Español? These are the everyday terms to master.

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Why we need pequeña cantidad (a little bit) of Spanish

We all need to know a little Spanish to get by whether we are heading to Barcelona, Mexico, another Spanish-speaking country or just staying put here in the U.S. for the foreseeable future. The United States is now the second largest Spanish-speaking country (Mexico is No. 1), according to the Spain-based nonprofit Instituto Cervantes. Fully 41 million native Spanish speakers live in the U.S., with an additional 11.6 million people who are bilingual, the group reports. If you took Spanish in high school or college, you can likely conjure up such arcane phrases as Juan y Maria van a la playa, (translation: Juan and Maria are going to the beach), but how often do these phrases really come up in casual conversation? Knowing these eight basic phrases and expressions will help you navigate the real world. After, check out these Italian phrases everybody should know.

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Where is the bathroom?

¿Dónde esta el baño?

Pronounced: DOHN-deh ehs-TA el BAH-neeo

This question is bound to come up, so it’s a good one to keep in your hip pocket–especially if you are traveling with young children.

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Call 911

‘Llame al 911’

Pronounced: Ya-Me Al New-A-Vay Uno Uno

This is a phrase that we hope never to utter, but it’s good to know just in case.

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How much does this cost?

¿Cuánto cuesta?

Pronounced: KWAN-Toe KWES-tuh

Shopping makes the world go around, and whether you are visiting a foreign land purchasing souvenirs or somewhere closer to home, asking how much an item costs will certainly come in handy. Other phrases including Necesito cambio, por favor (I need change, please) or ¿Tiene cambio? (Do you have change?) can also help with transactions.

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See you later!

Hasta luego!

Pronounced: AHS-ta looEH-go

“Hasta mañana” is another way of seeing see you later (or tomorrow), both which are customary and polite ways of saying good-bye in Spanish. Getting ready to pack your suitcase? These travel tips are actually no longer true.

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Good morning

Buenos días

Pronounced: booEHN-os DEE-as

This is the best way to greet a Spanish speaking person in the AM.

Buenas tardes (pronounced booEHN-as TAR-dehs) means “good afternoon,” and buenas noches (booEHN-as NO-chehs) is “good evening.”

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Excuse me

Con permiso OR Perdóname

Pronounced: Kohn pehr-MEE-soh OR pehr-DOH-nah-meh

Interrupting is rude in any language or country. If you have a pressing question or concern, be as polite as possible by using these phrases. Here are more behaviors that are considered rude in other countries.

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I am allergic to:

Soy alérgico(a) a _____ /

Pronounced: Soy Allergic-O a

My Child is allergic to:

Mi niño(a) es alérgico(a) a _____

Pronounced: Me Nee-NO S Allergic-O a

As many as 15 million Americans have food allergies including in every 13 children in the U.S., according to Food Allergy Research & Education, Inc. It’s important to be prepared when traveling or eating at a new restaurant. Fill in the blank with the allergen, whether peanuts, eggs, or dairy. (Peanut is cacahuete pronounced Ca-Ca-Wet-Tay. Maní—pronounced Man-ee—can also be used for ‘peanut.’)

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I do not understand.

No comprendo

Pronounced: yoh no kom-PREN-doh

When in doubt, this is always good phrase to know.

Denise Mann, MS
Denise Mann is a freelance health writer whose articles regularly appear in Reader’s Digest. She has received numerous awards, including the Arthritis Foundation's Northeast Region Prize for Online Journalism; the Excellence in Women's Health Research Journalism Award; the Journalistic Achievement Award from the American Society for Aesthetic Plastic Surgery; National Newsmaker of the Year by the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America; the Gold Award for Best Service Journalism from the Magazine Association of the Southeast; a Bronze Award from The American Society of Healthcare Publication Editors; and an honorable mention in the International Osteoporosis Foundation Journalism Awards. Mann received a graduate degree from the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and her undergraduate degree from Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. She lives in New York with her husband David; sons Teddy and Evan; and their miniature schnauzer, Perri Winkle Blu, and rescue chihuahua-pitbull, Thomas.